Soils, land cover and landscapes are resources that need to be protected, monitored and managed, from high-level national and sectoral land use plans through to local management activities on farms, forest plantations, peatlands, urban and rural settlements. We must also support continued collaborative research to inform decision making that may affect soils, land use and landscapes.
In the absence of European and national soil legislation, the challenge remains to ensure a consistent approach to protecting and managing our limited soil resource, in the context of supporting environmentally sustainable economic and population growth. Establishing and implementing an integrated national land cover, land use and habitat mapping programme is essential to assist in reporting and assessing the impact of different land cover and land use types on the environment. Providing a single agency with a mandate to develop this programme would help streamline its delivery.
In relation to the urban environment, the challenge is to design a future urban environment with public appeal that incorporates climate-proofing aspects, along with green areas and wild spaces for wildlife and people, while also meeting the needs of the population. We need to fully integrate environmental commitments and objectives of the National Planning Framework into our land use and sectoral plans. Additionally, integrating the National Landscape Strategy (NLS) into land use planning, will allow us to progress sustainable landscape management practices. This will only be possible through the establishment of consistent characterisation frameworks to assist local authorities and national agencies in engaging in infrastructure development. More initiatives to develop greater awareness of landscape and that facilitate local community participation are also required.
Assessing the state of the Irish landscape to capture additional information is a key issue for future practice; such measurements may include the rate of Landscape Charter Assessment at a regional level, and the take-up of these assessments in decision making, policies and legislation, scenic designations, local community landscape initiatives, accessibility and awareness.
The national Catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) programme is also considering the potential for significant increases in flood risk due to climate change. The CFRAM programme, co-ordinated by the Office of public works (OPW), should lead to better solutions to tackle flooding while minimising impacts on the wider environment, if correctly implemented and monitored at project level.
Achieving the aims of Food Wise 2025, without damaging the environment, will be a significant challenge. Many significant actions included in the Food Wise implementation plan relate to sustainable food production and management and protection of soil quality. The implementation of all these sectoral plans and policies should be carefully monitored to ensure a sustainable approach to land use that does not negatively affect the environment, the wider economy and communities.